Branding

Your Branding Guide For 2021: The Power of Mental Models in Branding

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Branding is a lot bigger than setting up a fancy logo for your business. Understanding how mental models drive branding, thus, would be fundamental to creating the best strategy for your brand.

Most businesses tend to fix branding to simply setting up a logo for their business; so they just design up a logo, and as soon as a logo is up, they don’t care any longer about branding: as far as they are concerned, they’ve finished work on the branding front—like to say, let’s get over this boring stuff and get to the real business of making money!

Well, if you think this way, then you are in for a big shock: Branding is a lot bigger than that!

So pick up your marker and return to your drawing board. There is still a lot to work on in creating your brand. You aren’t done yet.

In a YouTube video I watched recently on branding, the YouTuber, Chris Do, interviewed Marty Neumeir, author of The Brand Gap.

The first question was this: what is branding?

Here was Marty’s response: Branding is your customer’s gut feeling about your product, service, or company—or business.

Now, let’s create a chain of thoughts out of this: you can think of branding as what your customers think of when they think about your business; as the emotions that get triggered in them when they think about your business; as the thoughts you send running in their brains when they think about your business.

In other words, branding is the entire perception of your business by your customers. It is the conglomerate of what customers say about you, think about you, and everything in-between—or what people say about your business when you are not in the room, literally.

So branding is a lot bigger.

Branding is not what you design; it is the total perception of your business by your customers.

Having clarified the meaning of branding, we can move to another pressing problem: businesses today struggle with increasing their retention rates, a problem that streams from the fact that customers have poor mental models of many businesses—or simply stated, businesses fail to “anchor” correctly in the minds of their customers, the kind of brand they want to be to their customers.

What if your customers have a mental model that makes them trust you more?

What if your customers have a mental model that depicts a fuller knowledge of your product features?

Do you see how much your engagement and retention rates would improve?

Don’t worry if you don’t understand these questions yet. By the end of the article, you should be able to answer them and take real actions to boost your engagement and retention rates!

So let’s get started.

First, let’s understand what Anchoring is.

What is Anchoring?

This is a term familiar to theorists, researchers, and practitioners in the growing field of Behavioural Economics, a field that studies everything human irrationality and how the discoveries from studies can be harnessed for use by industries.

Discoveries in the field have become useful tools for product designers, product managers, and marketers—like you and me.

Anchoring is just one of many discoveries made—now a tool for marketers and brand managers to strategize with on creating the best launches for their marketing campaigns and brands.

Now what does Anchoring means for Brand Managers?

Anchoring is the mental model you create in the mind of your customers on the first contact with your brand. Note the two important keywords: mental model and first contact.

Okay, let’s start with what a mental model is.

There is a particular definition I like very much from Irrational Labs: a mental model is a deeply ingrained view of how the world works or doesn’t work.

Or consider another definition by World Bank: mental models connotes mental representations of experiences.

In other words, it is our viewpoint, our conception of how various things—the world, humans, money, love, a website, an app, email marketing—works and feels—based on our experience of it.

We all think this is how LinkedIn works: a professional network for potential employers to discover their potential employees and vice-versa.

And well, let’s think about it, this was the mental model LinkedIn created for its brand!

Or Twitter: a social media platform to send short posts, called tweets, online. This mental model was also created by Twitter itself resulting from its 140-characters post feature—no one goes to Twitter to create long-form content.

Now, in what would follow are three crucial points to note about anchors or mental models:

  • It is created immediately when a new user or visitor interacts with any element of your business—your website, emails, or social media posts. It is created on first contact.
  • The time it takes to create a mental model is short.
  • Once set, it is hard to change.

Now, let’s pour over them for better clarification.

It is created immediately when a new user or visitor interacts with any element of your business

I remember when I first met Irrational Labs. It was through a TED talk I randomly found on YouTube. The co-founder, Kristen Bergman, spoke on a topic, “Don’t listen to your customers, do this instead!”; a topic that turned out to be very insightful.

The insights I discovered from the TED talk grounded a mental model about Irrational Labs in my mind.

My Irrational Labs mental model: A brand that shares well-researched insights on what makes real humans tick and helps marketers leverage on discovered insights to drive “rates” marketers care about—the conversion rate for instance.

In other words, the video was the first touchpoint with the brand—it was also the point where the mental model was created.

The time it takes to create a mental model is short

The video was a 15 minute 30 seconds long content—and that was all needed to ground a mental model.

Once set, it is hard to change

Here is where we would spend some time.

Think about it, if LinkedIn wakes up one day and decides to change our mental model of how it works? Say, it rebrand to something similar to Flexjobs?

Would this be easy?

Well, here is the simple answer: it would prove very difficult.

And the reason is straightforward: mental models are deeply ingrained once created.

Now let’s break that down: as humans, we really don’t like to spend too much time thinking. We really don’t—that’s the truth.

Hence, by default, we always seek ways to automate the different things we handle in our day-to-day lives.

Now, with brands and everything digital becoming a bigger part of lives, we also take this system of handling things into this new way of living. In essence, we automate the way we deal with the so many brands calling our attention.

And how do we automate?

By affixing one thing or more specifically, an identity or an image to each brand, such that when we think of this brand or that brand, we think of one single thing—a process that ingrains such identity deeply in our minds.

This way, we are able to differentiate the so many brands we interact with, and consequently, we are able to interact with each brand on the basis of this identity or image we have affixed to them.

Hence, we just know where to go when we want to do something on the professional front (LinkedIn) or create short social media posts (Twitter) automatically.

Hence, creating a new mental model once one is already created isn’t only hard, it is costly—yes, you might lose your customers—because it forces customers or users (LinkedIn users, for instance) to dismantle the mindset they have already created for the brand. It forces them to readjust, to leave the status quo, to readapt—three things that researchers has confirmed over and over again that we humans are bad at.

We are conservative by nature. We stick to the status quo. And we prefer the familiar, anytime, any day, over new things—history itself proves this.

  • We would rather stick to our daily habit of eating junk food than cultivate a new habit of eating healthy foods.
  • We would rather stick to the daily routine of our daily life than rework it to accommodate activities we think will make our lives better—like running or going to the gym.
  • We would rather have LinkedIn stick to what we believe it is now than have it make us adjust to a new brand image—yeah, it is too much pain for us.

Now, let’s summarise all we have been saying so far—you want to have them at the back of your mind as you approach your brand strategy:

Creating brand awareness is the process of creating a mental model for your business.

Every potential customer that gets exposed to your brand awareness message immediately creates a mental model—you can think of the process of creating a mental model as automatic.

Once this mental model is set, it is hard to change.

Implications of Mental Models—Good or Bad

Spam posts

When you share a spam post on social media, you unintentionally create a mental model in the minds of potential customers that interact with the spam posts.

Mental model: This brand cares nothing about my needs or problems. It is only interested in my money and nothing else. Red-flag. Flee!!!

Needless to say, this set for your brand a bad mental model; and mental model being difficult to change, you will never be able to convert such people to leads, let alone paying customers.

Webinars

Webinars, today, is one of the most used tools for lead conversion. With webinars, brands get to educate their potential customers about their services and about them. That is, it constitutes in itself a mental model creation process—in other words, an anchoring process is underway.

By the end of a webinar, the educational part of the onboarding process would have ended. As a brand, you have educated your potential customers on all you want them to know about you. Your leads now know what your brand is. The mental model is created. It is set. It is fixed.

Don’t expect your new customers after this time to accommodate part of your brand you failed to let them in on upfront or adjust to changes and update to your product so easily.

What if you have upcoming product updates?

If a product update would be in the future, then inform them on the upcoming product features you are still working on at the point of onboarding. Let them get the complete mental model—that would prove advantageous to you.

The key takeaway here is that you want to be conscious that you don’t have all the opportunities or time—in fact, you have a short time—to create a mental model.

Customer Service

Customer service is a major touch-point for most brands today—and yes, it could be the first point of contact of a potential customer with your brand!

So what happens if there was bad customer service? Well, you just created a bad mental model for your brand with a new lead!

So you want to pay attention to your customer service too!

These are some of the many implications—good and bad—that follow from the mental model-building process that occurs mostly across the various touchpoints of your business.

One more thing…

Even though I haven’t started it yet, it should be clear now why you need to learn about the mental models: it is inescapable.

You create it whether or not you are aware you are creating it or not.

But as a smart brand manager, which I believe you are, you understand better that things you can’t escape from, the best way to handling them is mastering them so you can use them to your advantage—need some help flowing your creative juice in this direction? Read on.

Branding Done Rightly: Harnessing the Power of Anchors/Mental Models

Identify Touchpoints

The first thing you want to do to harness the power of mental models is to identify the various touchpoints across which your leads and customers get to interact with your business.

Also, you want to remember for the purpose of anchoring, your target audience would be new customers or leads or generally, prospects who have no idea what your brand is yet—or as Irrational Labs put it, prospects with a blank canvas—that is, without a mental model.

Conventionally, touchpoints most widely known and used by businesses are:

  • About us page.
  • Customer service.
  • Emails.
  • Social media posts.
  • Webinars.
  • User experience.
  • Customer onboarding.

Build towards creating the right mental model

What type of mental model do you want your customers to have about your brand? How do you want your customers to think about how your business works?

You can build towards that with the touchpoints identify above. That is, you can nudge the creation of the mental model of your brand in the right direction. Let’s consider some of them:

About us page

Ever thought of your about us page as a touchpoint? Well, it is one, because it is also a point of interaction between your business and your customers. Visitors to your website and leads would visit you about us page to learn about you and what your services are.

Your about-us page carries your vision and mission statement, and your core values as a brand; your about-us page carries your brand voice too—all three vital towards building a mental model.

Consider an example of two brands below: one with a brand voice relaxed and conversational, and another with a serious and more professional tone.

A Relaxed Toned About Us Page
A Professional Toned About Us Page

The two About-us pages would build different mental models.

Customer service

As discussed earlier, you want to design a good customer service experience for your leads and customers—chatbots, and response time to customer requests.

You also want to ensure your core values are reflected in your customer service. You don’t want them just written on paper—contained in your about us page. You want to lift it off your about us page and convert it to practice.

Emails

Devote time to your welcome or onboarding emails. Ensure you are nudging the creation of a mental model for your brand in the right direction—knowing how to craft good email copies a great step to cover here!

Ensure you are using the right tone throughout the email copy; ensure you are telling your new customers or leads what to expect from you upfront; ensure you have a tour guide that takes them through everything your brand represents to your customers, which are the value propositions and services you are offering them—a video clip can be utilized here for this purpose.

My Copyblogger mental model: A brand that shares fundamentals and best practices on copywriting as used by advertising masters.

My Copyblogger mental model: A brand that shares fundamentals and best practices on copywriting as used by advertising masters.

Social media posts

Social media is ranked first as the go-to tool for brand awareness and brand support. In other words, on a rank of touchpoints, social media would rank first on the list as the first contact of your brand with leads and potential customers.

In essence, you want to pay attention to how you position your brand on social media. You want to pay attention to your posts on social media. You want to ensure you are nudging the creation of the right mental model by instituting a sound social media marketing strategy.

Webinars

Webinars, today, is one of the most used tools for lead conversion. Online businesses utilize webinars to educate leads about their product offerings and product features (SaaS, for instance).

Considering an instance where your webinar is about exposing to your potential customers, the features of your digital product: how many of your digital product features should you expose? How much is enough for them to know upfront?

Well, my knowledge of mental models and anchoring tells me that you should expose to them all before narrowing down to the specifics.

Why?

The first exposure of the customer to your brand is still a process of creating a mental model. Exposure to a wide range of services you can offer them grounds a fuller image of your brand—you want them to eventually convert on all of your product features, not just one product feature, right?

Even though a single feature is what they get to start with.

The wider range of product features they get exposed to grounds a mental model that shows that your brand is capable of a lot more.

What if you have a very complex product with many features?

In this case, you want to select the most important product features—these could be the most patronized product features or product feature(s) that sets you aside from the competition and hence, should be at the core of your brand identity—alongside a display of your core values and everything that distinguishes your brand from the competition.

Let consider an example:

Jay Schwedelson, CEO of Subjectline.com and Worldata.com on 11th August 2021 grounded a mental model of his brand in my mind through his webinar. In the webinar, he talked extensively on how the iOS 15 update would impact email marketing in the nearest future and how businesses and email marketers can prepare for the dark hour—a talk that inadvertently grounded a mental model.

My Jay Schwedelson Mental Model: A brand that shares foresight and outlooks about the email marketing niche, and data-driven insights for email marketers to leverage to boost their open, click-through, and conversion rates.

User experience

What does the experience on your website or app feel like? How do you make your users feel when they interact with your website or app or product?

Austin L. Church is one of my favorite blog sites. The simplicity of his website really caught my interest—no pop-ups, simple logo design, and its low-tech feel.

My Austin L. Church Mental model: Simplicity

My Austin L. Church Mental model: Simplicity.

Customer onboarding

The onboarding process gives you a very good opportunity to directly build a mental model for your brand. You get to take your customers through the process of utilizing your product for their problems and needs.

Here, customers also get to interact with you on a closer ground, such that they can easily assess your work culture—so you want to ensure you are allowing your core values to shine throughout the onboarding process.

They also get to intuit different things about your brand consciously, subconsciously, and unconsciously through observation—so be conscious and strategic about your onboarding process while also ensuring a continuous flow along the onboarding process.

The onboarding affords you a whole big opportunity to help your customer navigate through your product (its features) and including your unique services (unique selling points).

So utilize it efficiently to build the right mental models.

Summary

Branding is not just your logo—it is more than that!

It is your customer’s gut feelings about your product. Their perception of your business or product.

To boost your brand engagement and retention rate, you want to ensure to anchor correctly or create the right mental model in the mind of your customers.

Understanding that mental models are created on the first contact, within a short time period, and are hard to change would help you better prepare towards strategizing on how to nudge the creation of the right mental models in the mind of your customers.

This act you can achieve by utilizing all your brand touchpoints to build towards creating the right mental models in the mind of your customers.

If you find our content useful, help other needy users find it easily by dropping your comment in the comment section below and sharing the blog post on social media—just click on one of the social media icons at the top of the page. Thanks.

Temidayo Azeez is a content creator, content marketer, and email marketing specialist @Profaily Inc. He is also an undergraduate at the University of Ibadan studying Economics. You can connect with him on LinkedIn

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